Poetry from the heart of space

BY ERIC ANDERSEN | JULY 10, 2009 7:10 AM

Poet Albert Goldbarth loves to talk about his spaceship collection with anyone who will listen, yet the 61-year-old poet refuses to use e-mail.

“Some days I must say, I’m kind of noble and heroic about it and other days I know people consider me a great big pain in the ass,” Goldbarth said. “I can only say that for me it seems absolutely right to draw the line and not accept that technology in my life.”

Goldbarth returns to Iowa City to read from his latest poetry collection, To Be Read in 500 Years, today at 7 p.m. at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque. The poet distinctly remembers his time spent at the UI, where he received his M.F.A. in 1971.

“I have fond memories of walking along the river, looking at Iowa co-eds, drinks at the Mill and the Foxhead,” Goldbarth said. “Poetry readings were everywhere. Those were days where I could just walk the streets of the city late at night and hold out my tongue and poetry would be sitting on it like a snowfall from out of the sky.”

Goldbarth has more than 25 works of poetry under his name, and is the only author to receive the National Critics Circle Award for poetry twice.

The writer is infatuated with the 1950s science fiction image of flying cars and spacemen, a reoccurring theme that is seen in many of his books including Budget Travel Through Space and Time and the more recent To Be Read in 500 Years.

“I have a kind of layman’s curiosity about what’s happening in biology, astronomy, and contemporary physics,” Goldbarth said. “I own, I think a very lovely, frankly, collection of old 1950s space toys. Rocket ships and ray guns and things like that.”

Goldbarth even devotes an entire room in his house to his futuristic collection.

“Well all these toys, I’m looking at this room now, it’s an entire room jam-packed with, for the most part, vintage 1950s toys,” he said. “Most of them tend to be of spaceships and bubble-helmeted spacemen. The look of those just says immediate antigravity wonder and adventure to me.”

Despite his infatuation with science fiction, Goldbarth manages to write about all aspects of life, ranging from his thoughts on religion to popular culture. Yet his work somehow all seems very connected.

“I don’t think of myself as being invested in being all over the place or having a wide range of interests, but I also don’t think of myself as a one-note poet,” Goldbarth said. “I try to make, if not individual poems, certainly a range in writing within a month or a year, as fully representative of human capability as I know how.”

Goldbarth said that he has a new book of poems in the works, which he is currently working on piecing together for a possible release sometime in the fall.

“Let me say I hope the new book will be read in one thousand years,” Goldbarth said.

Excerpt from Goldbarth's latest work:

Albert Goldbarth To Be Read in 500 Years

“If We Were Honest”

When I tell you that cultural ritual is artifice
composed of simultaneous chrono-vectors,
I’m thinking of sex, I meant it.
We all are. It isn’t just me. Or when I say
the war, or the god, or the list with the juice and the cereal. . .
sex. What is it the psycho-experts are claiming? — every ten seconds?
When I tell you that I’m thinking of sex,

I’m thinking of death. Its worm is always
in my eye, its sour and dirt-blown web is always
a catch in my throat. It was always a wen
releasing a small electrical jolt to the brain
of Napoleon, Alexander, Attila. It was funereally
in the black, black ink of the Brontes;
why should I be any different? Why can’t we

be honest? — every poem is “Sex.” (Or “Death.”)
If we were honest, half of our poems would be about
the making of poems, the conference on the making of poems,
the resume of poems successfully made … you know, the way
that half of the time is actually spent. And did
ten seconds pass just now? If so, then
sex. (If so, then death.) Not too long after

the Dolphin first made port in Tahiti, it was discovered
the crew were trading its nails
for dalliances with the pliant and welcoming
women of that island — “to such a great extent, the ship
was in danger of being pulled apart.”
Inside the cradling waves of moonlight
on those waters … smiling … consummating … human

nails into smooth, bamboo-brown human grain …
how did they know, how could they foresee, that
my mother would die from her own lungs
shaping hundreds of obstinate fists in her chest,
my father would die with his own blood turning
into a useless negative of itself?
And yet they must have known, they must have seen the lesson,

they were trying to deny it with the drive of such
combustive, zealous engines! This is my topic
tonight, and how the craft of poetry and the role
of the postmodern in a society of gender-defined relationship roles is yes a bare knee like a beacon,
like a skull beneath the face-skin, and a question
from the audience on a quasi-political sense is yes in my mind, yes in yours, yes
sex and death — the one thing.

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